Pittcon® 2012 Roundup of Spectroscopy and Mass Spectrometry

This past March, some 15,754 people from 90 countries descended on Orlando, Florida, for the annual Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy (Pittcon®) (www.pittcon.org/exhibitors/attendstats.php). As always, the conference is an opportunity for technology vendors to get face time with their customers, and for researchers to glimpse the latest and greatest those companies have to offer. This year’s Pittcon featured 948 exhibitors, from A&D Weighing to Zoex, promoting products to support a range of technologies and industries. Here, American Laboratory rounds up some of the more interesting product launches in spectroscopy and mass spectrometry.

NMR spectrometer


The picoSpin™-45L benchtop NMR spectrometer (www.picospin.com), available from Cole-Parmer (www.coleparmer.com), is a 45-MHz NMR weighing just 10.5 lb (4.7 kg). Intended primarily for educational labs, reaction monitoring, and QA/QC laboratories, the fully integrated, compact device (7” × 5.75” × 11.5”) features a permanent (as opposed to superconducting) magnet, meaning it requires no liquid nitrogen or helium, and uses a standard AC adapter so that it can be easily moved around and plugged in where needed. An Ethernet port facilitates data collection.

The picoSpin-45L requires no NMR tubes; samples (20 µL) are injected into a user-replaceable capillary sample loop, and though it requires relatively concentrated samples (>1 M for dissolved solids or >1% v/v liquids), it does not require deuterated solvents, says Alex Zhang, Marketing Associate at Cole-Parmer. “You can use regular solvents as long as they don’t interfere with the molecules you are monitoring,” he says.

The picoSpin cannot handle proteins or “other molecules with multiple chiral centers,” Zhang says. However, according to Jeff Sherman, picoSpin’s Director of Global Sales, the system offers “typical resolution of 60 ppb” 1H and 19F spectra for small molecule work, making it “an outstanding tool for routine organic analysis.”

NIR spectrometer


The MicroNIR™ spectrometer from JDSU (www.jdsu.com) is a lightweight, extremely compact (45 mm diam × 42 mm high), near-infrared spectral engine that utilizes a linear variable filter (LVF) as the dispersing element. Available in two wavelength ranges (950–1650 nm and 1150–2150 nm), the MicroNIR supports real-time evaluation, field testing, and on-line process monitoring to allow lower-cost sampling.

Electron magnetic resonance spectrometer


Also releasing a benchtop instrument for the education market was Oxford Instruments Magnetic Resonance (OIMR) (www.oxford-instruments.com) which, with Active Spectrum Inc. (www.activespectrum.com), introduced the AffirmoEX™ benchtop electron magnetic resonance (EMR) spectrometer. As its name suggests, EMR is like NMR but focuses on unpaired electrons rather than nuclei. It is typically used to monitor free radicals and the oxidation state of transition metals. The basic technology has been around for decades, says OIMR Product Marketing Manager John Paul Cerroti. Yet, until recently, EMR required costly, massive, and complicated equipment and dedicated personnel. As a result, the technology has been slowly dying; today, says Cerroti, “Very few universities have a working EMR.”

Measuring 10” × 10” × 11.25” and weighing just 14 lb (6 kg), the AffirmoEX is small enough to fit on a benchtop and features an easy-to-use touchscreen interface and two USB ports for data storage. Its small size, says Cerroti, stems from two advances: small, powerful rare-earth magnets, and cell-phone technology that can produce gigahertz frequencies in a miniaturized package.

Commercial EMRs use frequencies ranging from about 3 to 260 GHz. The AffirmoEX functions at 9.7 GHz (X-band) and, according to Cerroti, specifically targets two key application areas besides education: transportation, to monitor lubricating oils used in airplanes, trains, and automobiles; and food preparation, to quality-check cooking oils.



SPECTRO Analytical Instruments (www.spectro.com) showcased its SPECTROBLUE inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometer (ICP/OES), first launched in September 2011. The SPECTROBLUE compact, midrange spectrometer is ideal for environmental laboratories looking for an economical, high-throughput spectrometry system. It has an air-cooled design; thus there is no need for an expensive, external water-based cooling system. Furthermore, its sealed optic system eliminates gas purging.

Laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy instrument


Applied Spectra (www.appliedspectra.com) demonstrated a series of new applications for its RT100 LIBS, a laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) instrument first displayed at Pittcon 2011. LIBS is like ICP/OES, except the plasma is generated by a laser rather than an Rf generator.

According to General Manager Jong Yoo, LIBS technology is not new, but “in terms of product development, right now is a really vibrant time,” due largely to advances in miniaturization and detection. This year, the company highlighted some new applications being pursued by both its in-house scientists and collaborators, from forensics (differentiating types of paint or glass, for instance), to identification of “conflict minerals” like tantalums, to RoHS (Restriction on Hazardous Substances).

Electrical impedance spectrometer


The new INPHAZE from eDAQ (www.edaq.com) is a high-resolution electrical impedance spectroscopy (HiRes EIS) system for the study of thin films and layers. It provides a rapid and sensitive method to reveal the nano-structural layers of samples.


FluoroLog® EXTREME and FluoroCube EXTREME

HORIBA Scientific (www.extremefluorescence.com) announced what it calls the “world’s first commercial integrated supercontinuum powered spectrofluorometers.” The systems pair HORIBA Scientific’s FluoroLog® (for steady-state fluorescence) (www.horiba.com/scientific/products/fluorescence-spectroscopy/steady-state/fluorolog/fluorolog-r-our-modular-spectrofluorometer-522/) and FluoroCube (for fluorescence lifetime) (www.horiba.com/scientific/products/fluorescence-spectroscopy/lifetime/fluorocube/fluorocube-our-compact-benchtop-spectrofluorometer-825/) spectrofluorometers with the SuperK EXTREME white light laser from NKT Photonics (www.nktphotonics.com) to create the FluoroLog EXTREME and FluoroCube EXTREME, respectively.

According to Ishai Nir, director of the fluorescence division at HORIBA Scientific, the white light laser replaces the high-powered xenon arc lamps typically found in steady-state spectrofluorometers, and the many diode lasers often used in fluorescence lifetime instruments, offering picosecond pulse rates and relatively uniform, tunable excitation at wavelengths ranging from about 450 nm to 2400 nm. That means users can access a broader range of fluorophores than they otherwise might, and tweak their experimental conditions more precisely to separate overlapping emission signals.

Users could always purchase a spectrofluorometer and white light laser, Nir says. The integration, though, is not trivial, as it requires precise timing, resolution, and software control. “It’s difficult to get these instruments to work together reliably,” he says. “That’s why the integration…is so valuable.”

Raman instruments

Also generating buzz at Pittcon were handheld Raman spectrometers. Handheld Raman analyzers enable users to analyze materials on site, whether running QA checks on chemicals on a pharmaceutical company loading dock, or identifying counterfeit or illegal drugs in the field.


B&W Tek Inc. (www.bwtek.com) rolled out its NanoRam™ handheld Raman spectrometer. The 1-kg NanoRam looks a bit like a Nintendo handheld game system, but with an iPhone-like user interface. According to Marketing Manager Robert Chimenti, that makes the NanoRam exceptionally easy to learn. At Pittcon, he says, users could figure out how to use it in seconds, without documentation. “Think of it like a voltmeter,” he explains—a tool to facilitate end users’ applications rather than as an analytical research instrument, per se.

The NanoRam features a cooled charge-coupled device (CCD) detector for greater stability and signal-to-noise ratios, and real-time Wi-Fi connectivity. This means that data can not only be offloaded to databases or to supervisors for go/no-go decisions, but also that method, library, and software updates can be pushed to the instruments as needed. That said, Chimenti notes that each NanoRam can function as a standalone unit if desired. “You can create and manage libraries, develop methods. It’s a completely standalone instrument.”

B&W Tek also plans to introduce an app so that live readings can be monitored remotely.


Rigaku Raman Technologies (www.rigakuraman.com) also unveiled a handheld, Wi-Fi-enabled Raman device, the Xantus-2-785/1064, which the company calls “the world’s first dual wavelength handheld Raman analyzer.”

The compact (13.8 cm × 27.4 cm × 9.8 cm), 8.1-lb Xantus-2 can excite samples at both 785 nm (as most handhelds do, using a CCD detector) and 1064 nm (using an InGaAs detector). According to Product Marketing Manager Elizabeth Yarbrough, this dual-wavelength capability means the device can obtain a Raman reading even with samples that fluoresce at 785 nm.

“In the pharmaceuticals industry, you can see 30% more material at 1064 nm than at 785 nm, because so much of it fluoresces at 785 nm,” she says. The same is true of explosives; the explosive mixture known as Composition-B produces a single broad fluorescent peak at 785 nm, but a diagnostic series of discrete peaks at 1064. Target applications include raw material identification, reaction monitoring, narcotics and counterfeit drug detection, and homeland security.

Verifier™ Process System 1000

The Verifier™ Process System 1000, a Raman analyzer for use in pharmaceuticals and chemical manufacturing, was showcased by Mustard Tree Instruments (www.mustardtree.com). Launched in January, the VPS-1000 is a laptop-sized device that is designed specifically to fit in the most compact pharmaceutical and chemical processing locations. The powerful, rugged analyzer carries out sensitive real-time testing of liquids, powders, solids, gels, suspensions, and emulsions under many harsh conditions and hygienic environments.

More handheld Raman

Other commercial handheld Raman analyzers include the Thermo Scientific TruScan® from Thermo Fisher Scientific (www.ahurascientific.com/truscan) and the PinPointer from Ocean Optics (www.oceanoptics.com). Many other options can be found at www.labcompare.com.

XRF instruments


Applied Rigaku Technologies (www.rigakuedxrf.com) has added to its energy-dispersive X-ray fluorescence (EDXRF) instrument line with the NEX QC VS. The VS is an optional variation of the NEX QC low-cost benchtop EDXRF launched at Pittcon 2011. The NEX QC features a 4-W, 50-kV X-ray source for nondestructive elemental analysis from sodium to uranium. The VS options incorporate collimators to focus the X-ray beam down to 14, 8, or 3 mm, plus a 1.3-megapixel complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) camera and light-emitting diode (LED) lighting for accurate beam placement.

With an icon-based “modern touchscreen interface,” the NEX QC VS was designed for two specific applications, says Product Manager Scott Fess: RoHS screening of toxic metals in plastics, and jewelry analysis for recycling and valuation.


Olympus Innov-X (www.olympus-ims.com) presented the portable, countertop GoldXpert XRF analyzer. The simple-to-use XRF analyzer provides a cost-effective way to obtain alloy chemistry and karat classification with one nondestructive and nonintrusive test. Among its many features, the analyzer is able to identify and characterize alloys such as silver and platinum, as well as point out poison elements within samples.

UV-VIS spectrophotometers

NanoDrop™ Lite

Thermo Fisher Scientific (www.thermofisher.com) launched its NanoDrop™ Lite at the International Plant & Genome XX Conference in San Diego in January, but showed it off to a far wider audience two months later at Pittcon.

The NanoDrop Lite is an application-specific variant of the more full-featured NanoDrop 2000/2000c and NanoDrop 8000, all of which can measure UV absorbance in samples as small as 1 µL. But whereas the 2000 and 8000 models can acquire full spectra, the NanoDrop Lite is designed specifically to measure absorbance at 260 and 280 nm, values that are used to quantify and assess the purity of nucleic acids.

“That gives the ability to create a simpler and smaller version of the NanoDrop 2000, and that’s what the NanoDrop Lite is,” says Simon Nunn, Global Marketing Director for Molecular Spectroscopy at Thermo Fisher Scientific. The NanoDrop Lite features the same cuvette-free “pedestal” design of its more full-featured cousins, says Nunn, but instead of a broad spectrum light source and detector array, the NanoDrop Lite uses LEDs and a simple silicon photodiode detector.

Measuring just 16 × 11.5 cm, the resulting package is fully contained—there’s no need to attach it to an external PC—and “literally fits in the palm of your hand,” Nunn says. An optional printer prints labels for refrigerator and freezer test tubes.

UV-2600 and UV-2700

Making their Pittcon debuts were Shimadzu Scientific Instruments’ (www.ssi.shimadzu.com) newest UV-VIS spectrophotometers, the UV-2600 and UV- 2700. (Both officially entered the market in September 2011.)

The 2600 is a single monochromator instrument capable of reading out to 1400 nm; with two monochromators, the 2700 delivers ultralow stray light across a more conventional range to 900 nm. Both have a smaller footprint than do their predecessors, the UV-2450 and UV-2550, says Product Manager Mark Talbott, and both feature Shimadzu’s proprietary “Lo-Ray-Ligh” diffraction gratings, “which provide a broader scan range with lower stray light values.”

With stray light values of 0.005% and 0.00005%, the UV-2600 and UV-2700 can measure up to 5 and 8.5 absorbance units, respectively. That makes the 2700 especially effective for highly absorbent materials, such as sunglass polarizers, welding helmets, and so on. “Anything that has very low transmission, or that is highly absorbing, the 2700 would have good potential for,” Talbott says.

DMV-Bio Cell

Starna Scientific Ltd. (www.starna.com) displayed its new Starna Demountable Micro-Volume (DMV) Bio Cell, an ultralowvolume cell for use in most UV-VIS spectrophotometers. The DMV-Bio is available in 0.5-, 0.2-, and 0.125-mm pathlengths. Using sample volumes down to 0.6 μL across a wide range of concentrations, the cell delivers accurate and reproducible measurements on existing spectrophotometers.

FTIR systems

FTIR sealed liquid cell

International Crystal Laboratories (www.internationalcrystal.net) featured a heated variable-pathlength cell for FTIR spectrophotometers that can be heated to 200 °C. A programmable ramp and soak temperature controller with RS232 serial cable computer interface is provided with the cell. The cell pathlength can be adjusted continuously from 0.05 mm to 5 mm.

MB-Rx Reaction Monitor

ABB (www.abb.com) showcased its MB-Rx Reaction Monitor, an FTIR analyzer for real-time, in situ monitoring of chemical reactions. Measuring 43.5 cm × 28.0 cm × 37.2 cm, the MB-Rx is small enough to fit in a chemical fumehood. The monitor features a rugged insertion probe and intuitive software interface, and is an effective plug-and-play solution that can be used at any time without the need for consumables or maintenance.

ATR probes/interface modules

Axiom Analytical (www.goaxiom.com) and Symbion Systems (www.gosymbion.com) displayed high-performance attenuated total reflectance (ATR) probes and interface modules for the Bruker Alpha™ FTIR. Features include maximum sensitivity for mid-IR analysis and interchangeability with Bruker Quick-Snap™ modules. The Sl-Alpha1 interface module is optimized for use with ATR probes and flow cells. The companies also offer flexibly coupled diamond and conventional ATR probes and multipass Raman probes for more than 10× enhancement in sensitivity

Mass spectrometers and accessories

TripleQuad™ 4500 and QTRAP® 4500

AB SCIEX (www.absciex.com) introduced two 4500 series LC/MS/MS systems, the TripleQuad™ 4500 and QTRAP® 4500. The two instruments are both LC-based triple quad instruments, but the Q3 in the QTRAP 4500 can function either as a quadrupole or as a linear ion trap for greater sensitivity. The 4500 series spectrometers build on AB SCIEX’s popular API 4000. According to Product Manager Brent Lefebvre, they have been optimized to handle faster ultra high-performance liquid chromatography (UHPLC) systems and feature design elements of the company’s higher-end 5500 spectrometers, including faster electronics, better sensitivity, and “a curved ion path for a smaller footprint.” Lefebvre says AB SCIEX is targeting the 4500 series at a few key applied markets, including food, environmental, clinical research, and forensic toxicology. One key application, he says, is pesticide screening, in which customers might need to screen for hundreds of compounds in a single run.

Normally, says Lefebvre, optimizing such a method can be laborious. In this case, the company has done much of the work already, developing canned iMethods™ that specify sample preparation protocols, Phenomenex (www.phenomenex.com) columns, multiple reaction monitoring (MRM) transitions, and retention times for each compound. The user simply selects the desired pesticides, and the system’s scheduling software does the rest, configuring the instrument to specifically scan for each pesticide at the correct retention time. “If you follow our method, you can do one injection and screen for 400 pesticides,” Lefebvre says.


Thermo Fisher Scientific showcased the Thermo Scientific iCAP Q ICP/MS, an ergonomically designed, quadrupole ICP/MS that utilizes right-angle positive ion deflection (RAPID) lens technology for the separation of ions and neutrals. The ICP/MS features proprietary QCell technology.

Q Exactive

The Thermo Scientific Q Exactive benchtop LC/MS/MS from Thermo Fisher Scientific combines high-performance quadrupole precursor selection with high-resolution, accurate-mass Orbitrap detection, offering a maximum scan speed of 12 Hz and multiplexing capabilities. Resolving power is up to 140,000.


Launched in July 2011, the SCION™ TQ GC/MS/MS system from Bruker Daltonics (http://scionhasarrived.com) won the 2012 Pittcon Editors’ Choice Silver Award. Featuring a model 436 or 451 GC on the front end and a triple-quad mass analyzer on the back end, the SCION TQ features several design innovations, according to Marketing Director Meredith Conoley, including a parallel (not orthogonal) GC inlet, a “heated q0 ion guide” for eliminating interference from neutrals in the source flow, and a “lens-free design” that reduces maintenance requirements.

According to Conoley, one key application is pesticide identification in food. The SCION TQ, he says, can typically detect pesticides at 0.5 ppb or lower, some two orders of magnitude below typical regulatory requirements. That makes the system “analytically robust,” he says, and also provides “headroom or foot room” in case those requirements become more stringent in the future.

As a result of Bruker’s Compound-Based Scanning (CBS) experimental design software, developing methods to identify those pesticides en masse is easier as well. Users can forgo much of the pain of optimizing complex MRM studies, selecting instead the compounds they wish to detect and letting the software work out retention and dwell times, optimal fragmentation ions, and so on.

“We basically allow users to go through our library, select which components they will analyze, and all the rest of the work is done,” Conoley says. “So you are going from weeks of work [optimizing the method], down to a few hours.”

Also unveiled at Pittcon was Bruker’s ionBooster™ “next-generation high sensitivity” electrospray ion source, which the company claims can yield 5–100-fold improvements in sensitivity.

LAESI® DP-1000

Winning the Bronze Award at Pittcon 2012 was the LAESI® DP-1000 ionization source from Protea Biosciences (http://proteabio.com/LAESI). LAESI (laser ablation electrospray ionization) is an ionization method in which a midinfrared laser (2940 nm) excites the O–H bonds of untreated aqueous (e.g., biological) samples under ambient conditions, ablating the sample, which is then ionized in an electrospray. It can be used to raster across a sample, such as a leaf, in situ, producing a two-dimensional spatial map—that is, a mass spectral image—of molecular abundance. By ablating repeatedly, users can also generate 3-D maps as well, for instance to show metabolite abundance in the various layers of a tissue.

The LAESI DP-1000 is compatible with Thermo Fisher Scientific and Waters (www.waters.com) mass spectrometers. At Pittcon, Waters and Protea (www.proteabio.com) announced a co-marketing agreement “to make the DP-1000 available to new and existing users of Waters’ SYNAPT G2 and SYNAPT G2-S mass spectrometers running under MassLynx® control.”

expression™ Compact Mass Spectrometer

Advion Inc. announced the commercial availability of its expression™ Compact Mass Spectrometer (CMS). Measuring just 10.6” × 21.6”, the expression CMS is a personal single-quadrupole mass spectrometer that is small enough for chemical fumehoods and laboratories that have limited space. Featuring easily interchangeable electrospray ionization (ESI) and atmospheric pressure chemical ionization (APCI) sources for LC/MS, a mass range of m/z 10 to m/z 1200, and a resolution of of <0.7 m/z units, the expression CMS was developed for the discovery research and process development synthetic organic chemistry market, enabling real-time reaction monitoring and compound identification.


ALMSCO International (www.almsco.com), the mass spectrometry division of Markes International Ltd. (www.markes.com), showcased the BenchTOF-dx™ benchtop time-of-flight mass spectrometer. Intended for GC/MS the BenchTOF-dx has applications in the food and beverage and petroleum industries, environmental analysis, and drug testing. The TOF/MS provides full-range spectra at the sensitivity levels of quadrupole instruments running in selected ion monitoring (SIM) mode.


1st Detect Corporation (www.1stDetect.com) announced the introduction of the MMS-1000™ miniature mass spectrometer, an ion trap mass spectrometer measuring just 7.5” × 12.5” × 9” and weighing less than 17 lb. With a sensitivity of 1 ppt and a resolution of under 0.5 Da FWHM, the MMS-1000 delivers rapid MS/MS detection of trace levels of volatile compounds in around 5 sec.

Microchannel plates

PHOTONIS USA (www.photonis.com) announced in February the availability of a new long-life, low-noise (L3N) option for its microchannel plates, which among other things, are components in time-of-flight detectors. Applications in which the background noise of the particular application is lower than the noise of the detector can especially benefit from the low noise option.

MASS-tastic Voyage 2012 bus tour

Phenomenex and AB SCIEX kicked off a 30-city cross-country bus tour called the MASS-tastic Voyage 2012, a mobile lab—modeled on the semitractor trailers used to haul NASCAR cars—showcasing sample preparation and chromatography columns from Phenomenex and liquid chromatography systems and mass spectrometers from AB SCIEX. According to Phil Koerner, Senior Technical Manager at Phenomenex, the bus hosted “well over” 800 visitors at Pittcon, the first stop on a voyage that will cross the U.S. three times before terminating in Vancouver at ASMS 2012 in May. (See www.masstasticvoyage.com for a complete schedule.)


Naturally, even this extensive list represents just a sampling of the many technologies launched or showcased at Pittcon 2012. And new techniques are in development, for instance on the single-molecule level. W.E. Moerner, Chair of the Department of Chemistry at Stanford University and this year’s winner of the Pittsburgh Spectroscopy Award, has spent nearly three decades developing the single-molecule spectroscopy techniques underlying one of today’s hottest life-science technologies: super-resolution, single-molecule microscopy.

Bulk spectroscopic analyses are not going away, Moerner says. But they will be ever more complemented by single-molecule studies, according to him, at least in the life sciences, as researchers work to understand how enzymes, antenna proteins, and other biological macromolecules-proteins work. “Given that cells are factories made of individual machines…we can learn a lot by going to the single molecule level,” he says.

We’ll find out just how much we can learn when Pittcon 2013 convenes March 17 in Philadelphia.

Jeffrey Perkel, Ph.D., is a Contributing Writer for American Laboratory/Labcompare; e-mail: jeffrey.perkel@gmail.com.